Ethiopian historical sources, most of which were compiled from the late fifteenth century onwards, states the Zāgwē Dynasty began ruling Ethiopia in the first half of the tenth century, i.e. 929 AD. The Zāgwē are therefore supposed to have ruled the country for a period of three and a half centuries. There is no certainty regarding circumstances in which the Zāgwē Dynasty ascended to power. Widely used version attributes the Dynastic change by the marriage between the daughter of the last Aksumite king Dil Ne‟ad and one of his generals, Mera Tekle Haimanot, a man from Lasta and believed to be the founder of the Zāgwē dynasty.
The story which was told for generation goes like this, Long long time ago… a large number of Isarealite middle-aged men, bachelors, and priests came to Ethiopia at the time of Minilik I (the son of Queen Shiba ‘Makeda’) return to Ethiopia. On the return back to his homeland, Minilik I and his accompanies brought the original Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem. The Rabbies started to preach about the Old Testament and started converting the locals to Judaism. Till the day father Fremnatus አባ ሰላማ(a Christian archbishop) came to Aksum and converted the kings Abreha, his other king brother Astbha(It’s common to see dual kings ruled Ethiopia at the same time) and people of Aksum, the Falashas lived with the locals, especially with the Agew People.
Historically the Agäw people are one of the oldest and indigenous Cushite people, who were under the rule of the Aksumite Empire. They originally located in Lasta, Roha and its surrounding. Today they settled in the northern, central and north-western Ethiopia and some part of Eritrea. The Agew inhabited with the Amhara, Tigre, who are hardly distinguishable from one another. These groups have many common cultural, historical, geographical roots and somatic characteristics. Agaw society has various names in different regions. In Wollo they are called Yewag, in Gondar-Kemant, in Gojjam – Agaw (Awi), and in Eritrea – Blen(Halal).
The ‘Felasha’ has got the name because they have been moving from place to place for a while. First, they moved from Jerusalem to Aksum, then from Axum to Lasta, and finally to the Semien mountains which were their last stronghold. From this point on they progressively become powerful, as such, they started crowning their own kings. Their first king named Gideon has a daughter named Yodit, she also has been called ‘Aster’. Aster was married to the governor of Lasta named Zere Yakob. He was blinded by her magnificent beauty, he changed his religion of Christianity to Judaism to make his beloved but deceptive wife happy. To make his conversion formal he even changed his Christian name Zera Yakob to Solomon.
This was the time that the king of Aksum king Degnajan (ruled 825-845)A.D passed away, and his son king Anbesawedem (ruled 848-849)A.D became the king of Aksum while he was an infant. When the beautiful Yodit heard this news; She and her husband wage a war against the Aksumite Empire and invade its entire territory. In 849 A.D, Yodit became Queen of Ethiopia(Abyssinia). From this time, the Queen ruled Ethiopia with Absolute Anarchy for the next 40 years. because of that, the people start changing her name from Yodit to Gudit (ruffian) and her family name Aster to Esato(the fire).
To save the complete collapse of the Empire the king and princes of Aksum fled to Shewa. when the people of Shewa hear the news of the exiled young king Anbesawedem arrival to their state, they were ready to protect and help the infant king restore his power. He was always indebted to the people of Shewa, as they were his proactive guardian from several attacks, which came from the Queen. This was the time that she destroyed countless churches, artifacts, and numerous rock-hewn churches including the famous and the still-standing Debre Damo. When the people of Ethiopia especially, the people who live in the Tigray province were thrilled when they hear the news of the Queen death (889 A.D.). Following her death, Anbesawedem (ruled 889-909)A.D restore the Aksumite Empire once again. His son Dil Na’od (ruled 909-919)A.D became his successor, and many historians believed Dil Na’od was the last king of the Aksumite Empire, meanwhile, Mera Tekelhazmont (ruled 919 – 932)A.D. became the unofficial first king of Zāgwē dynasty.
There are a number of possible derivations of the word Zāgwē. Some writers claim that it is an abbreviation of Zāgwē Michael, the Christian name of Mera Tekle Haimanot, and the founder of the Zāgwē dynasty. Others believe that it drives from Agaw in Geez (ዘአገው means “from Agew”), the place where the tribe of this dynasty originated-the north-central part of Ethiopia. The second explanation seems the most probable since the previous dynasty also took its name from a locality and, more specifically, a capital city-Aksum. As a capital city which could symbolize the whole empire had not yet been established.
The Zāgwē dynasty flourished between the eleventh and thirteenth century. Four out of its eleven rulers represented by ‘kings-saints’. The kings-saints of the Zāgwē dynasty are credited with the foundation and endowment of extraordinary monuments. For instance, they have created the famous rock-hewn churches of Lasta, which lie immediately to the South of Tegray and are considered to be one o the most distinctive artistic products o the Ethiopian Christian civilization. The Zāgwē dynasty is also the first for which definite artistic objects can be attributed to historical personalities. One recent and extremely interesting example is that of the inscribed processional cross of King Tantaweddem.
The recollection of the king-saint, merits and good deeds towards the church and clergy has been adduced as a reason for their sanctification. Indeed, Yemreanna Krestos (the king-priest excellence of the Zāgwē dynasty, who is thought to have been early identified as the ante litteram ‘Prester John’ of Ethiopia), Na’akkweto La’ab, and especially Lalibela were all great builders. The last-named, in fact, was so important as to have given his name to the famous town where the incredible monolithic rock-hewn churches were carved. The Zāgwē did show a commitment to the church building and their strict adherence to orthodoxy is shown by their early observance of the ‘Christian Sabbath’ praised by King Lalibela in an inscription on an altar-throne (manbara tiibot). However, it seems overly positivistic to think that these things were the only reason for their sanctification, even for those contesting their legitimacy to rule. The Zāgwē was also considered usurpers.
Tantāwedem (ruled 932 -972A.D.), the son of Mera Tekle Haymanot is considered to be one of the first rulers of the Zāgwē dynasty. He presented himself as the son of Mera Tekelhazmont. The reign of Tantāwedem was documented by contemporary sources: a cross, carrying an inscription, was found and is still preserved in the church of ‘Urā Masqal (Gelo Makada, Tegrē).
ዘንተ፡ መእተበ፡ አቅነይኩ፡ አነ፡ ሰሎሞን፡ ንጉሥ፡ ወልድ፡ ሙራራ፡ ወሰምየ፡ ጠንጣውድም፡ I acquired this cross (sign of the cross), myself Solomon, son of Murārā, and my name is Tantāwedem.
He also gave a manuscript to the church of Abbā Mattā‘e of ’Ahām, now known as Dabra Libānos of Šemazānā, in the south of present-day Eritrea. The binding of the manuscript, protected by a golden metal cover, carries an inscription bearing witness to the name of the donor:
ወአሰረኩ፡ ዘንተ፡ ግለ(sic) [ግላ]:- ወንጌል፡ አነ፡ ንጉሥ፡ ሰሎምን(sic) [ሰሎሞን]:- ለቤተ፡ አባ፡ ምጠ፡ ዘአሀም። I, King Salomon, have had this cover of the gospels made for Bēta Abbā Metta’e of Aham.
Finally, he richly endowed the church of Qefereyā/‘Urā Masqal by granting it much land, including lands taken from a nearby community. All this suggests that Tantāwedem was the founder of the church. These land grants were later written down and copied into a collection preserved in the church of ‘Urā Masqal. In these donations King Tantāwedem presents himself thus:
አነ፡ ሐፀይ፡ ጠንጠውድም፡ ሰመ፡ ፡መንግሥትየ፡ ሳሎሞን፡ ወሰጓየ፡ ገብረ፡ መድኅን፡ በ ፲ ወ ፪ ዓመተ፡ መንግሥትየ፡ ዓመተ ፳ ፬፡ ለወርኀ፡ ሚያዝያ፡ ለመካነ፡ ቅፍርያ፡ ለቤተ፡ መስቀል፡ I, hadāy Tantawedem, whose regnal name is Salomon, and my surname (is) Gabra Madòen, in the 12th year of my rule, on the 24th of miyāzyā and in the place named Qefereyā, at the church of the Cross…
There is, therefore, no doubt that this was one king alone who, following the custom of the Aksumite kings, possessed three names: his regal name, Tantāwedem, his regnal name, Salomon, and his surname, Gabra Madòen. Tantāwedem is known for rebuilding, those churches destroyed and burned by Yodit during his reign.
The successor to Tantāwedem was Jān Śeiyoum, who ruled 972 – 1012 A.D. He is presented as being the son or the brother of Tantāwedem, who might have had another nephew or son named Germā Śeiyoum (ruled 1012-1052 A.D.). Power would then have been passed on to Germā Śeiyoum.
Indeed the rise of the Zāgwē dynasty did not represent a break in the Aksumite tradition. For over three centuries the center of the Christian kingdom was on the doorsteps of Wagra and Lasta, and it was from here that it controlled its extensive sphere of influence in the ninth and early tenth centuries. A close review of the few available historical notes on the period shows no signs of a sudden and dramatic advent to power of a completely new cadre of leadership in the country. It rather seems that the culmination of a natural political development within the Christian kingdom of which the central parts had long consisted of the crucial area of the headwaters of Takaze and Sallari. The Zāgwē period is believed to be one of the richest and most artistic periods of Ethiopian civilization.
The Zāgwē bordered the Muslim Shirazid Emirate and County of Assab, the Jewish Kingdom of Aksum, and the Nubian Christian Hayya, Meroe, and other small chiefdoms. During the reign of Yemrehana Krestos of Abyssinia (known as “the Wise”), the Zāgwē campaigned against Assab, and his son Kedus Harbe of Abyssinia would fight against Axum and conquer Assab for himself, becoming a great leader.
To be Continued…
የኢትዮጵያ የ5000 አመት ታሪክ